OUTstanding Virginians 2011

Kristi VanAudenhove, Ruth Micklem & Jeanine Beiber

Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance

The fight to end sexual and domestic violence links these extraordinary women. Altogether, they have given nearly a century of service to the cause. For five years, all three were co-directors of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, a coalition of nearly 1,000 agencies and individuals who share a vision of “a world where relationships between people are respectful, healthy and safe.”

As a sociology major in the early 1980s, Kristi had planned to pursue an academic career but “fell into” domestic violence work when she took an internship at a shelter in Maryland. “Having grown up in a family with both sexual and domestic violence, the work resonated with me,” she says; “It helped me get a new perspective on my life.” Kristi found herself “among some amazing, strong, powerful women.” Soon she was running a domestic violence prevention program in Williamsburg.

Ruth came to the field around the same time. Doing a human services practicum at a homeless shelter in Petersburg, she discovered that most of the women had suffered sexual and/or domestic violence. She convinced the shelter to let her start a support group. Ruth was running a YWCA program in Virginia Beach when she met Kristi at a conference. Kristi offered her a job in Williamsburg. A romance blossomed, and the two moved to the Northern Neck, buying “a wonderful place by the water” where their four kids could get together on weekends.

By the early nineties, Kristi and Ruth were co-directors of Virginians Against Domestic Violence (VADV). They trained staff, assisted agencies in the field, and raised public awareness. As the staff grew, the women began focusing on different areas: Ruth on public policy, Kristi on finance and programming and development.

Jeanine came from another statewide agency, Virginians Aligned Against Sexual Assault (VAASA). A generation older than Kristi and Ruth, she had traveled far from her roots in West Virginia, where she was educated in a two-room schoolhouse before attending teachers’ college, running a child development program, and earning advanced degrees in counseling and health promotion. Jobs in sexual assault prevention led to her running the VAASA’s Charlottesville office.

Jeanine tells of how in her call to set up the interview for the Charlottesville job, she asked if VAASA would be able to welcome an out lesbian into the position. She was assured that the organization would be supportive—in fact, she was told, two lesbian partners were leading VADV. That was her introduction to Kristi and Ruth. Four years later, the organizations combined to form today’s Action Alliance. The new organization made Jeanine the third co-director. From Charlottesville, she focuses on diversity, relationship building and communications.

Under the women’s joint leadership, the Action Alliance helped craft legislation to strengthen protections for victims, including pro-arrest policies in domestic violence cases. They made sure that protections applied equally to partners in same-sex couples and to transgender individuals. They mobilized the Action Alliance membership against the Marriage Amendment. Internally, they created a supportive environment for LGBT staff, including partner benefits.

In 2009, Ruth returned to local organizing, freeing up time to enjoy the pleasures of grandmotherhood. Jeanine expects to retire in a couple of years in order to spend more time with her partner Karen, their church, their eight grandchildren and Desi—a child born in prison, whom Jeanine and Karen are helping her mother to raise. Inspired by this experience, the two are working to develop an intergenerational community that helps mothers leaving prison raise their children.

All three women take strength from their loving relationships and from the LGBT movement. Kristi sees being out as a step towards a better society: “Given my passion for ending sexual and domestic violence, it is important to me to model healthy and respectful relationships, and healthy and joyous sexuality.” After thirty years of advocacy, she sees her ethic reflected in the attitudes of the Action Alliance’s younger employees and volunteers: “They have friends who are gay, lesbian, transgender and queer and are quicker than we were to understand the link between all forms of oppression. They come to us ready to dig deeper and go broader.”